Movie Review: The Hate U Give

Although our cinemas in Hong Kong are still open for the time being, there’s not much that’s new on their screens these days. I mentioned the other day that I was exposed to someone who was infected with the Covid-19 virus at the MY SPY press screening two weeks ago (I’m fine) and, just to be safe, local distributor of BLOODSHOT sent out an email advising anyone who attended that screening to please not attend their press screening, which took place a few days ago. Hot on the heels of that email came a WhatsApp message from the local distributor of MISBEHAVIOUR announcing that their two press screenings, which were scheduled for this weekend, are now cancelled. So I have nothing new to review this week and possibly next week as well. Instead, I’ve turned my attention to what’s on the streaming services since that’s where most people are getting their movie fixes these days.

THE HATE U GIVE may not have been the best movie choice I could have made given the state of the world these days but I’m glad I finally watched it. The film, which premiered at TIFF in September 2018, never made it to Hong Kong’s cinemas because, quite frankly, black lives don’t matter here. Our local distributors rarely bring films that are about African-American experiences but there may have been an additional reason why this film never made it here: It’s about the underclass standing up against the establishment. In case you’ve forgotten, and it seems our government conveniently has, Hong Kong was rocked by nine months of protests against our government and once-beloved police force, which ended only because of the coronavirus outbreak.

Starr Carter (Amandla Stenberg, THE HUNGER GAMES; THE DARKEST MINDS) is an amiable, 16-year-old who lives with her family in the fictional black neighbourhood of Garden Heights. Her father, Maverick (Russell Hornsby, CREED II; FENCES; TV’s GRIMM), is a reformed drug dealer who now owns a nearby bodega. Her mother, Lisa (Regina Hall, the SCARY MOVIE series), is a hospital nurse. Completing the family are her slightly older half-brother, Seven (Lamar Johnson, DARK PHOENIX), and her younger brother, Sekani (TJ Wright). As Starr tells us in a voiceover at the film’s outset, their parents had big plans for their children so they took the kids out of the local school years earlier and placed them in the very WASPy Williamson Prep. That has resulted in Starr having two personas – the “ghetto” version and the “white” version – and never the twain shall meet.

One night, Starr goes to a neighbourhood house party where she runs into Khalil (Algee Smith), an old friend she had lost contact with. While Khalil is driving her home, they get stopped by a policeman where things go horribly wrong. Now Starr has to decide whether it’s worth upsetting her carefully managed dual life to speak out against this injustice. Complicating her decision is the knowledge that Khalil was working for King (Anthony Mackie, the AVENGERS franchise), the local drug dealer. King also happens to be Maverick’s former partner-in-crime and Seven’s step-father.

THE HATE U GIVE is based on the YA novel of the same name by Angie Thomas and was adapted for the screen by Audrey Wells (UNDER THE TUSCAN SUN; A DOG’S PURPOSE). Wells sadly died of cancer the day before the film was released in the US. The film’s title comes from a song by Tupac. If you don’t know the lyrics (and I didn’t), I’ll leave it for you to discover as you watch the film. Both the lyrics and the story are heartbreaking, when we see that hatred only begets more hatred. If there’s anything weak about the film it’s that the ending wraps up a little too neatly but its heart is certainly in the right place.

Stenberg puts in an absolutely fabulous performance here and I’m surprised that her name wasn’t included in at least the “Honourable Mentions” category of top performances of 2018. She can now be seen in the Netflix mini-series, THE EDDY, starring André Holland (HIGH FLYING BIRD; MOONLIGHT; SELMA, TV’s THE KNICK). I’m not familiar with this show but I’ll have to check it out. Equally impressive is Regina Hall, whose work to date has mostly focused on comedies. The film also features Issa Rae, whose latest film, THE LOVEBIRDS, with Kumail Nanjiani, is going straight to Netflix next month, and Oscar® winner Common (SELMA), who plays Lisa’s policeman brother, Carlos.

Although the Black Lives Matter movement probably won’t come to Hong Kong, THE HATE U GIVE offers some interesting insights into why so many young people are taking to the streets in protest, not just in the US but here in Hong Kong too. If you haven’t seen it yet, definitely check it out.

Watch the review recorded on Facebook Live on Friday, March 27th, 8:30 am HK time!

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